Surrounded by the cheering crowds and colorful floats of Calgary’s Pride Parade, Danielle Mark marches with her wife Ava Lefthand and their son Leelith Lefthand.
Wearing matching ribbon shirts and ribbon skirts, the Stoney Nakoda Nation family walked the crowded streets with pride with supporters from their community.
“The majority of the community, they’re very supportive,” said Danielle Mark.
But she says on the Stoney Nakoda Nation, there’s a different vibe.
“It’s just when it comes to politics or a tribal council, it seems like we’re not considered a family,” Mark said.
For Mark and Lefthand, the Stoney Nation is home. They both grew up on the reserve and they are both members, but they don’t feel like they belong.
Their son Leelith Lefthand is eight years old.
Although he is a status Indian, he isn’t a member of the community he calls home.
For eight years Mark and Lefthand have tried numerous times to register their son, but he was never accepted.
They believe it’s simply because they are a same sex couple.
“I want him to feel pride in his community,” said Ava Lefthand from their Stoney Nakoda home.
“And if this is going to keep happening, I don’t even know if I want to raise him here anymore.”
The couple said chief and council haven’t explained exactly why Leelith is being refused membership.
“We feel very discriminated against,” Mark said adding the donor even tried to fill out the application with her.
“They still rejected that and asked for a DNA test, which we thought wasn’t fair.”
They refused the DNA test. Mark is Leelith’s biological mother.
She and Lefthand have been together for over 15 years and both parents are listed as Leelith’s parents on his birth certificate.
“We’ve been together for a very long time. We’ve planned this family. It was me and her from the get-go. So why push her away now?” said Mark.
At their most recent attempt at registering their son, Mark and Lefthand said council asked for Lefthand’s name to be removed as a parent.
“If she was off the birth certificate and he was on there, there wouldn’t be no problem. Is what he mentioned and that really upset me. I’m not going to do that. She’s the parent,” Mark said.
Lefthand said her son deserves better.
“It just hurts that he’s treated different because of me. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel I shouldn’t be in the picture just so he can get what he deserves. It feels like it’s because of me that he’s pushed aside. He doesn’t deserve that.”
APTN News reached out to chief and council many times requesting an interview.
Instead, Councilor Ryan Robb sent an email stating “it would be inappropriate to speak to an individual’s file.”
The Stoney Nakoda Nation has a custom membership code, meaning it’s not administered by the federal government.
The couple told APTN that they haven’t seen an updated membership code.
The one given to them was last updated in 1995 and it doesn’t mention those of the LGBTQ2S community.
When asked about the current code, Robb wrote in his statement that the membership code “belongs to the Stoney Peoples and it is not something that I would be at liberty to distribute to non Stoney interests.”
“Enough is enough,” said Mark. “Like, eight years. We’re sick of being treated like this and we’re not going to stay quiet anymore.”
“He’s a sweet boy. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s too sweet to be here. I just don’t want him to change who he is.”
This couple isn’t the only one struggling with their community for recognition.
Wayne Wallace, a two spirit father is trying to figure out what creates a member of an Indigenous community.
“When I came to accept myself as two-spirited, a member of the LGBTQ community, it was the first thing I thought in my mind back then was, I’m never going to have kids,” Wallace said.
Wallace and his husband have twin boys through a surrogate mother.
Once child is Wallace’s biological child, the other is the biological child to his husband, who is non-Indigenous.
“They’re both my children. I created them with my husband. The closest heterosexual can create their own family.”
Wallace is a member of the Madawaska Maliseet Nation in New Brunswick but lives in Vancouver.
While both sons are status Indians under the Indian Act, only one is registered as a member of his band.
“We can’t have children the traditional way. It’s just not going to happen. We’re two men, we needed the help. We had the intent in creating our family this way.” he said.
“There might be those that decide to adopt. Should they also be stopped to register those children as they would consider them as their own to be members of their community?”
The Madawaska Maliseet Nation hasn’t responded to our request for a comment. But Wallace said members voted on a membership code that allows the band to decide who can be a member, and who can’t.
“Five years ago our community enacted a new membership code because we’ve had control over our membership for quite a while now. The new code requires off springs to undergo DNA testing.”
“I can’t understand why blood has to be the only component that makes you indigenous.”
Wallace said there’s a number of layers that come with being Indigenous.
“I think culture, family language traditions, all of that, it’s blended together.”